Understand better the project manager to improve training

Project Plan DiagramWorking more closely with project managers can bring dividends for trainers, advised Rob Impey in a presentation at the BCS Information and Technology Training Specialist Group meeting on 15 June.

He looked at what project managers do, trainers' relationships with them and put forward some ideas for trainers to engender better interaction between the two groups.

If a trainer was asked to train 400 people with no allocated budget, they would question why the project manager did not obtain the necessary funding, suggested Rob.

The reason this sort of scenario occurs is because project managers don't think of competent end users as an end product. Trainers also have different mind sets to project managers.

'The timing of training in a project is key,' said Rob. The project lifecycle typically has seven stages:

  1. initiation;
  2. analysis;
  3. design;
  4. build;
  5. test and packaging;
  6. implementation;
  7. operation.

The traditional project timing is to introduce trainers around stages 5 to 6, explained Rob.

The aim should be to get training to be included from stage 2 onwards. Training requirements, for instance, need to be analysed at stage 3 and trainers should be involved in scheduling of the project.

'Although that is not happening yet, the good news is that IT has got closer to the business in recent years,' said Rob. 'IT departments are starting to understand human change management and getting closer to people, and project managers are starting to recognise human change management.'

He pointed out that when you look at a list of what a project manager does, which typically includes documentation, risk analysis, budgeting, running steering groups, remuneration, there is generally nothing about managing training in their role.

He asked attendees to split into two groups to consider a scenario where an HR recruitment system has failed and what an IT project manager would have to find out to plan to implement the new system.

The suggestions included budgets, timescales, business objectives, risks, links to other systems and quality of data. Rob's point was to emphasise that project managers have plenty to consider, which means they wouldn't necessarily think about training at this point.

He therefore asked the groups to consider what information they could supply to a project manager to help him in the task. As members of the project management specialist group attended the session, as well as ITTSG members, they were able to consider both stakeholders' points of view, which led to some animated discussion.

Suggestions included feeding information about: end user readiness to use the system; the assets and attitudes to them; the necessary budget for training; the timeline to obtain materials and resources; and usability.

A key point made by Rob was that users often use systems differently from expected, which means the performance of the system is not as anticipated.

From the generated list, Rob proposed it would be possible to create an action plan to target project managers to educate them, support them and start building relationships.

He suggested that trainers can have key input into a project because they are focused on a set of deliverables, and the trainer is likely to be the first person to consider the system with the business processes, and to look at a system in detail, and to focus on a set of deliverables.

'A good trainer will be a good facilitator, I believe,' said Rob. 'They can see the business processes and how they fit.'

The difference in the project manager's and trainer's outlook partly stems from them having different customers, explained Rob.

Customers for the project manager is usually at director level, whereas for the trainer they are end users, as well as the project manager. Similarly, they have different bosses - the project board for the project manager and the learning and development manager for the trainer.

If project managers have any issues, they raise them at a high level in the business, whereas trainers are looking lower down the ranks to see how systems function at grass roots level. They can therefore give feedback to the project manager about that level.

Rob questioned whether trainers were making sure that their results were also celebrated at a higher level.

He asked the groups to consider what the key messages were for their stakeholders in project training. For instance, users should find systems easier to use and the functionality has been improved for the HR director.

Some members of the group commented it would not be their place to always highlight these issues, to which Rob responded that it should be possible to pick just some of the target stakeholders to tell what you had done.

He suggested developing the relationships on functional lines, beginning with the learning and development manager and picking specific targets.

'Work at the business level,' advised Rob. Don't get viewed as 'just a trainer' - show you add value.'

If you would like to know more about Rob's ideas, contact the ITTSG chair, Jooli Atkins: jooli@matrix42.co.uk

The ITTSG is planning to hold its next meeting in October.

26 June 2007